Gwinnett mothers step in to make sure more kids get meals

Besides concerns that receiving instruction remotely as schools are closed might hinder learning, many worried that students who rely on school breakfast and lunch may go hungry. When Marianne Glaser heard that Gwinnett County Public Schools was extending its meal plan through its digital learning days, she breathed a sign of relief.

Then she did the math.

How are 68 sites feeding over 80,000 students? She quickly discovered that they aren’t.

That’s unfortunate for her neighbors who may need a little extra food to get through this crisis.

“We’re in the Mill Creek area, which I think is the largest cluster in Gwinnett, and there are no sites or buses in the entire cluster!” Glaser said.

So she and a few other parents took matters into their own hands and set up feeding program for their school, Duncan Creek.

“I reached out to (principal Carrie Yougel) and asked if she could help identify families in need,” said Glaser.

To guard families’ privacy, Yougel provided Glaser’s information and let them contact her. So far Glaser has heard from about 100 families but has the resources to take care of 25.

Glaser and another mother, Suleima Salgado, solicited donations of bags, packets of instant oatmeal, bread, sandwich fixings, chips, fruit and snacks like Rice Krispie Treats to fill little ones’ tummies.

Related story: Gwinnett schools extend digital learning days past Spring Break

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“And a lot of people were donating the two loaves of bread they were allowed to buy at the grocery store to the program,” said Salgado. “We’re still going through Spring Break and plan to add even more families.”

Like just about every school district that offers free lunch and breakfast through a federal program, Gwinnett is extending feeding programs into the summer vacation months. Meals can also be offered during an unanticipated school closure such as the COVID-19 pandemic at schools where at least half of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

“In Gwinnett, we launched the Digital Learning Days version of this program in all of our schools/clusters that met that requirement,” said Sloan Road, a Gwinnett spokeswoman via email??. “That said, the recently passed federal legislation HR6201 (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) allows states to apply for a waiver to expand the Seamless Summer Option feeding program so that it could be expanded to other schools below that 50 percent threshold. GCPS has expressed its interest to the Georgia Department of Education in support of filing this waiver.”

Meanwhile, the ladies enlist their children, Salgado’s son Giovani and Glaser’s kids Katie Ann and Harrison to fill the sacks and put the meals on the receiving family’s porch. They make sure to find out about allergies or dietary restrictions. They even have “fake” peanut butter.

“I know I wouldn’t be confident relying on a stranger to keep peanuts from my child if they were allergic to it,” said Glaser. Her daughter Katie Ann is allergic to tree nuts, so Glaser understands the dangers.

Both moms enjoy the activity and are glad their children are learning firsthand to be altruistic.

“Sometimes the kids come out, but we try to practice social distancing,” said Salgado. “You can tell the kids are so happy to see someone.”

Glaser and Salgado aren’t upset with Gwinnett schools; they understand that the district’s hands are tied.

“I don’t want to come off as unappreciative of what they’re already doing,” said Glaser. “I’m happy to do this, but it would be OK retiring and let the school district take over.”

She and her group have only made a small impact in a large area of need. Gwinnett officials haven’t heard if they’ll be allowed to extend the district-run feeding program but hope the go-ahead will come next week, during spring break.